Instead of lying straight and flat like healthy toes, a hammer toe (sometimes written as hammertoe) is shaped like an upturned ‘v’ due to its middle joint being abnormally bent. Because the tip of the toe points downwards at an unnatural angle, it may develop a stubby appearance resembling the head of a hammer, hence the name of this foot deformity.
What causes hammer toes? An imbalance or weakness affecting the foot’s muscles, ligaments or tendons is to blame. For example, if you have a weak muscle in one of your toes, the tendons connecting it to the bone can become shorter, tighter and less supple over time. As a result, it’s increasingly difficult for the affected toe to lie flat; it curls up and becomes claw-like instead. Hammer toes tend to get progressively worse, and without treatment it’s possible for them to lose all flexibility and end up permanently bent.
Your second, third and fourth toes are most likely to be affected by this common condition. Some people have just a single hammer toe, but as MedicineNet’s hammer toes photo shows, others develop more than one, which compounds the problem.
Staying Active Can Be Challenging
Pain is the major, most persistent issue caused by hammer toes. The bent joints rub against the inside of your shoes, leading to friction burns, inflammation, grazes and sores (which can be open invitations to infections), as well as corns and calluses (areas of hard, thick skin associated with excessive pressure).
Moving a hammer toe usually hurts, so keeping it flexible is challenging. Hammer toes may reduce your mobility and force you to give up activities you enjoy, such as sport. Plus they can make you self-conscious – you might avoid wearing sandals or walking barefoot.
Restrictive Footwear Increases the Risk
While hammer toes can be a hereditary condition, they’re also linked to lifestyle choices. Wearing footwear that’s too narrow or tight at the front (pointed shoes are a prime example) makes your toes feel cramped, especially if any of them are longer than average, and can stop them lying flat, encouraging deformities.
The likelihood of suffering from hammer toes increases with age, as your body loses suppleness. Arthritis is another risk factor – it makes joints stiff and sore. Foot injuries, such as stubbed or broken toes, can contribute to the development of hammer toes too.
In addition, if bunions make your big toes turn inward, your other toes could easily be pushed out of their correct position and become crooked.
The First Step towards Resolving the Problem
When trying to relieve the pain linked to hammer toes, many people turn to over-the-counter medicines, such as ibuprofen, which reduces inflammation. Other at-home treatments include wearing toe protectors and using padding to shield corns and calluses.
However, those options only provide short-term relief. The first step towards lasting relief is to book a podiatry appointment. Your podiatrist can discuss your symptoms and examine your feet, paying particular attention to whether the affected toe joints remain flexible or are locked, and arrange X-rays if needed.
You could well benefit from one of our London podiatry services known as a biomechanical assessment: by studying the movement of your bones, joints and muscles, as well as analysing your gait with computerised scanning techniques, we can pinpoint the source of the weakness or imbalance causing hammer toes and develop an effective treatment plan.
Specialist Treatments for Long-Term Relief
After conducting your biomechanical assessment, we can create a unique set of orthotics (specialist, custom-made insoles) designed to relieve pain by supporting your feet, alleviating weaknesses and imbalances, and protecting sensitive areas. Orthotics can be life-enhancing, not least because they help patients to stand, walk and run comfortably.
Only severe cases require hammertoe surgery; for instance, if your joints have seized up, an operation to straighten the toes and restore some mobility may be performed. Rest assured that this is relatively straightforward. In The College of Podiatry’s words, ‘The podiatric surgeon is able to correct this deformity under local anaesthetic as a day case procedure.’
Hammer Toes Treatment at London Foot Clinics
Feet By Pody’s professional, experienced London podiatrists are ready to help you relieve the pain caused by hammer toes.
Simply contact us today for prompt assistance.